Monday, 16 November 2009

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars

Doctor: 'Is this it? My death? Is it time?'

This was a real landmark episode. In terms of quality, it was head and shoulders above 'Planet of the Dead,' it was beautifully plotted, featured terrifying monsters, and was thick with complex adult themes. Tonight, the Doctor attempted to change the rules of the game. Instead of being hampered by the restrictions of being a Time Lord, he tried to change an event fixed in time, and it all went Pete Tong. People died, and despite his best intentions, the tenth Doctor moved one step closer to his own destruction.

Tonight's episode was a brooding, sometimes harrowing parable on the dangers of power. Events are spiralling out of control. The tenth Doctor has just two episodes left to live, and the haunting, all pervasive, spectre of his inevitable extinction is beginning to take its toll. He seemed terrified by his own mortality. I did wonder at one point whether his metamorphosis into 'Time Lord Victorious' was all part of some grand scheme to defy his own fate. If he can successfully change a fixed moment in time without significant repercussions, then what's to stop him trying to change his own destiny? If the Time Lords are the custodians of time, and all that responsibility now rests solely upon his shoulders, then who is there to check his hand? The implications are potentially far reaching. If successful, would he be able to bring Rose back from her parallel Universe, or even save his own people from annihilation?

Yet, despite the Doctor's irresponsible defiance of time, nothing changed. Or rather nothing appeared to change. Bowie Base One still blew up—but the details changed significantly. Captain Adelaide Brooke was destined to die and she did die, but instead of dying on Mars, she instead died on Earth. The outcome was the same. The difference was, this time her death was the Doctor's fault.

But what a terrible moral dilemma to face. Would Donna, Rose or Martha (had they been there), have allowed him to just walk away? I very much doubt it. So morally he did the right thing (eventually), but realistically there was just no way he could stop the base from going nuclear. It was an event too encased in historical significance, so in the end, all he could do was appeal to his authority as Time Lord, before wrongly concluding that altering time was now firmly within his remit.

Unfortunately, it was this arrogance which precipitated disaster. The Doctor grossly overestimated his own ability to manipulate time, and ended up making an already impossible situation that much worse. One thing this episode really brought home was the Doctor's utter helplessness. He could literally do nothing to stop Bowie Base One from exploding, which forced him into breaking the very laws he'd been born to protect. The question now remains: what exactly has the Doctor done? Did Brooke die and the time line snap back into place, or have his actions caused untold damage elsewhere? Has the Doctor unwittingly contributed to reintroducing the Master back into time? Where is he now headed? What exactly was he saying 'no' to in the episode's dying seconds?

I found most of the secondary characters a touch uninspiring. Not surprising really, as they were nothing more than cannon-fodder for the cracked mouthed nasties, but Captain Adelaide Brooke was as well rounded and real as they come. I thought they wove a marvellous back story around her. The Daleks killing her parents should have tainted her views on both aliens and space exploration, but seeing that Dalek through the window—rather than fuelling a desire for revenge—actually inspired her. She saw beauty and hope in the universe. In the end it was Brooke who had the courage to rectify the Doctor's mistake. Afraid that history might be changed forever, she took her own life, and in the process preserved the integrity of the time stream—thus ensuring her granddaughter's place in history. She didn't see the Doctor as her saviour. She saw him as a self-appointed god, exercising powers of life and death, seemingly on a whim.

And we must surely heap praise upon Tennant's performance tonight—he was immense. He got across the Doctor's angst magnificently. For much of this episode he was impotent—a mere bystander in a nightmare over which he had absolutely no control. But his inner conflict was plain to see. Particularly poignant was his slow walk back to the TARDIS, the screams of the dying crew ringing in his ears. And his sorrow at Adelaide's suicide was tangible, as was the dawning realisation that he'd overstepped the mark, and that there would be a terrible price to pay. I teared up a little when Sigma Ood appeared. The Doctor looked so frightened, fearful that his time had come, that his mistake had somehow brought about his own end. It was chilling to see him stood alone in the TARDIS, the cloister bell ringing in the background—a sure harbinger of impending disaster.

Yet for a fleeting moment he shone. In full-on Time Lord mode he took control control of the situation, and his brilliance and daring-do saved them all. He embraced his destiny. He took on the responsibility of being the last existing Lord of Time, and for one glorious moment it even seemed possible that he could stave off his own demise. He was a veritable force of nature. But in the final analysis, all he did was bring about Adelaide's death and start the countdown to his own regeneration. In Doctor Who Confidential (which followed immediately after this episode), Tennant made the comment that 'The Waters of Mars' was a story which could only be told once. The reason why is obvious. There can only be one ending—and we're just two episodes away from seeing it.

Other Thoughts:

—This episode was dedicated to the memory of long time Classic Who producer, Barry Letts (1925-2009).

—The Ice Warriors appeared several times during the Troughton/Pertwee era.

—Would things burn on the surface of Mars?

—Gadget reminded me of Johnny 5 from the movie Short Circuit. Except Gadget was as charmless as his operator, Roman Groom.

—The TARDIS' cloister bell can be heard ringing in the dying moments of this episode. The cloister bell rings when the TARDIS and its inhabitants are in grave danger—usually as the result of a time paradox or the clashing of alternate realities. It can be heard in 'Time Crash', 'The Sound of Drums', 'Turn Left', 'Logopolis', 'Castrovalva' and 'Resurrection of the Daleks'.

—This story was originally entitled 'Red Christmas' and was supposed to be a Christmas Special, hence the snow and residual festive references.

—They totally gypped us in the trailer for this episode. There were four knocks in the trailer. In the episode itself there were only three.

—Was the Doctor wearing the same red space suit he wore in 'The Satan Pit'?


Doctor: 'The laws of time are mine, and they will obey me.'

Adelaide: 'Is there anything you can't do?'
Doctor: 'Not any more.'

Doctor: 'For a long time now I used to think I was just a survivor. But I'm not. I'm a winner. That's who I am. The Time Lord victorious.'
Adelaide: 'And there's no one to stop you?'
Doctor: 'No.'

Doctor: 'I've gone too far.'

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